SALAMANCA – Plans for the school district in Salamanca to sell off the Seneca Elementary School to the Seneca Nation of Indians have brought a question back to the surface.
District officials said Seneca Elementary School Principal Charles Crist was escorted out of the building and placed on administrative leave four years ago because of harassment charges. The case is following procedures that the state Education Department had in place at the time, procedures that did not include a time limit.
Crist has not been in the building in four years but is still being paid for the job, according to district superintendent Robert Breidenstein.
“Mr. Crist is still currently on what is about the same as administrative leave for the incident four years ago,” Breidenstein said. “He is still being paid according to his contract, pertaining to longevity and salary.”
According to SeeThroughNY.net, in 2009, Crist was making $104,892 in salary. Since he has been on leave, that amount has gone up to $116,169 a year.
Breidenstein said the rule of thumb to figure the cost of paid benefits is to add one-third of the salary. According to that, benefits for Crist would be about $38,712, bringing the annual amount of compensation to about $154,881, making him the highest-paid administrator in the district. Since 2009, Crist has been paid a total of $442,660 in salary.
The state process under which Crist is being investigated has been replaced, Breidenstein said. Under the old system, there was no deadline for the investigation of charges.
Because that process was in place when the investigation into Crist began, the School Board is still waiting for a final decision in the case.
The average timeframe for a case under the former policy was 560 days, according to Breidenstein.
“That would be from start to finish. On average, most were done in a year and a half,” he said.
“It was an interesting process, to say the least,” Breidenstein said. “Under the new process, there is a strict 120-day calendar from the filing of charges to a decision.”
Breidenstein said this case is not the longest to have taken place in New York State; however, he said, “it is up there.” The longest involving a school district was around 11 years, he said.
“It is my opinion that we are getting close to a decision,” he said, without giving any details. “If there was relief [from this salary payment], the funds could be used in the form of programs and personnel in the district. But, as of right now, we, as a district, are still in limbo in this matter.”
The situation with Crist happened before Breidenstein’s arrival in the district. J. Douglas Hay was the chief administrator at the time.
Crist’s replacement, Mary Elizabeth Koch, earned $108,044 in salary for 2012.